When Ryan Gray brought a new dog into his life, little did he know how much life would change. Max was no ordinary Black Labrador and, from an early age, he displayed highly talented search skills. Max’s innate skills had planted the seed in his new owner’s mind for the creation of a potential search and rescue team – one lead by canines.
The duo became known as ‘Search Dog Max’ but this would quickly grow to become a team of 24 volunteers and currently eight search and rescue dogs – all volunteers from an array of backgrounds, with each bringing their unique expertise to the team.
The team, who are taskable 365 days a year and 24 hours a day, train on a weekly basis in various locations across Northern Ireland, including the River Blackwater in Benburb, to ensure their tactics are water tight and ready to be deployed at anytime.
Ryan, the charity’s founder travelled with Portadown dog trainer, Kyle Murray and their dogs Max and Delta, to take on a heartbreaking search and recovery mission following the devastating earthquake which hit Turkey and Syria earlier this year.
Following a successful rescue, Black Labradors Max and Delta, together with their handlers, returned from their mission where they helped to locate a woman who was still alive after 11 days buried beneath the rubble.
Of training the canines, deputy team leader Jonny Caughey, said: “We have several dogs across two disciplines – Live Air Scent and Cadaver. Our Live Air Scent works on being trained to scent the gases a reviver releases while the casualty is still alive. Cadaver works on a dog being trained to scent the gases of which a decomposing reviver emits.”
Unlike other rescue organisations, K9 Search and Rescue NI does not receive government funding, relying solely on the community they serve for donations.
Jonny continued: “The team self fund their own specialist equipment which is very expensive, not to mention the running costs or the organisation involved. We are grateful to a number of local businesses who have donated everything from money, to life saving equipment, to providing vehicle up-keep and maintenance.
Each team member is required to pass a national certification (NASDU) before participating in search missions. I had the pleasure of catching up with the team in 2020 as a group of volunteers qualified and where awarded with their NASDU certificates.”
This is the third of a four-part series looking into local first responders – kindly sponsored by Blackwater Private Clinic, Armagh